If the start was anything to go by, Day 3 of the third Test in Ranchi would have very well been a snooze fest. But Cheteshwar Pujara lit up Ranchi with a splendid batting display, hitting his 11th Test century, to help India seize the initiative. Murali Vijay, his batting partner during a 102-run second-wicket alliance, also looked in a great shift but an ill-advised attempted lofted shot off Steve O’Keefe brought about his downfall on 82, with Lunch just around the corner.
Pujara, however, set an example of how not to throw away a solid start by batting on and reaching a fine hundred. He also shared important stands with Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair and Wriddhiman Saha to push India closer towards the Australian first innings total of 451. India ended the day at 360 for 6, adrift by 91 runs. Pujara was batting as brilliantly as ever on 130, while Saha had done well to get himself to 18 not out.
For Australia, Pat Cummins enjoyed a superb comeback as he picked up 4 for 59, to ensure India did not run away with the initiative. Cummins’s strength was his pace through the air, and he used his slower deliveries and short-pitched ones to great effect to keep the batsmen always guessing. He had already dismissed KL Rahul yesterday with a short delivery. On Day 3, he added the wickets of Virat Kohli, Rahane and R Ashwin, the last two coming off short deliveries.
The day began with an intense battle of attrition. Australia bowled tight lines and lengths to not give away anything too easily, while Vijay and Pujara looked to ride out the phase trusting their defence and technique. Vijay started the day with a handsome lofted six off O’Keefe, but India had to wait long for another boundary. Including the six, India were able to only score 13 runs in the first 11 overs of the day. By the time the first hour was done, India had added 24 runs to their overnight score of 120 for 1 in 16 overs.
But they soon found rewards for the hard work.
Vijay brought out the sweep and played it to perfection, hitting it wide of the squarish fielder in the deep to pick up regular boundaries. Pujara started to use his feet more confidently and even played a couple of great straight drives to the fence.
Their 100-run stand off 232 balls was a testament to their patience. Ironically, Vijay lost his immediately after. With Lunch just a few deliveries away, Vijay stepped out to hit O’Keefe over the top. The bat met air, and the ball landed in Matthew Wade’s gloves as he effected an easy stumping.
Kohli made his way out to the centre for the first time since landing heavily on his right shoulder while fielding on the first day. He had already hit the nets in the morning and all eyes were on how he would play. He looked a tad gingerly, but was in no great trouble while playing his shots. He got himself to six before Cummins, with the new ball, had him caught in slips.
In the meanwhile, Pujara had gotten himself to an impressive 11th hundred. The right-hander had overcome a slow start, scoring at less than one every five balls, before he upped the ante beautifully. Once he had his eye in, the typical flick off the pads, the cuts and the drives were all back on view.
Rahane came out with an attacking mindset, and with Pujara already in great flow, runs started to flow. The pair added fifty runs in just over 60 balls to give India the advantage, but once again a bad shot brought about the downfall. Rahane tried to be cheeky in ramping Cummins over the keeper’s head. The shot came almost as an afterthought, and it resulted in just an edge to the keeper. At Tea, India were 303 for 4.
Australia got back in with a big shout soon after. Josh Hazlewood had the ball reversing just enough to beat Karun Nair’s defence and uproot the off-stump. It could have been much better, but Pattinson put down a tough return chance off Ashwin when the batsman was on one. He had his man soon after, with a snorter that Ashwin could only glove to the keeper.
Pujara, at the other end, was made to play a leg-stump line by O’Keefe. The right-hander was happy to kick away most of the deliveries, but was alert enough to put away a full toss to the boundary.
Saha was able to turn the strike over soon, and Pujara handled Cummins’s hostility with relative ease. Saha, too, took the attack to O’Keefe – hitting two boundaries in successive overs.
The pair played out the remaining overs and reduced the deficit to double digits as India went into stumps at 360 for 6.
Brief scores: Australia 451 lead India 360/6 (Cheteshwar Pujara 130*, Murali Vijay 82; Pat Cummins 4-59) by 91 runs.